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Short life for birch trees
City official says trees planted in 1998 are nearing the end of their life cycle

Candace Thomson
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The browning line of trees along Franklin Avenue toward Old Airport Road have seen better days.

NNSL photo/graphic

The birch trees along Franklin Avenue have seen better days, and are concerning city councillor Adrian Bell. Grant White, community services director, says the trees are merely getting old. - Candace Thomson/NNSL photo

The leaves on the birch trees are dying and it has nothing to do with autumn looming over the capital, with cooler temperatures setting in and healthier trees beginning to show their reds, oranges and yellows.

The 15 birch trees, brought in from tree farms in Alberta and planted along with a group of another 15 by the city in the late 1990s, are nearing the end of their life cycle, according to Grant White, community services director for the city of Yellowknife.

"From what I saw when I was driving by, it's just the life cycle of the tree," he said.

"Those trees were installed in 1999 - 2000 and for a birch tree ... that's kind of their life span. They're watered and maintained, but they are going to go through their life cycle."

According to the Canadian Forest Service, white birch and European white birch have a life span of 30 years.

The sickly state of the birch trees was a topic of discussion in the Aug. 26 council meeting when city councillor Adrian Bell called for them to either be revived or replaced.

"They look like they're on death's doorstep," he told Yellowknifer. "In terms of the aesthetic appeal of our town, we need to do something."

If the state of the trees was a naturally occurring process, then so be it, Bell said, before adding that the city needs to see if the trees can be revived.

White, who said he hasn't personally inspected the trees, said the city will examine the trees annually and replace them as needed.

The city has no official tree replacement budget, but White estimated three or four trees need to be replaced each year at a cost of $650-$700 each. The city maintains 800 transplanted trees each year at a cost of about $90 per tree, according to the 2013 city budget.

The city's birch trees also appeared in Yellowknifer in 2001 when they were plagued by a parasite known as the birch leaf miner, which at the time was sweeping through the NWT.

The leaf miner first appeared in the NWT in the early 1990s and, at the time, appeared to be getting worse, leading to the purchase of 200 special wasps from Edmonton by the city. The wasps were known to scientists as a natural deterrent of the parasite.

White said the birch leaf miner, also known as Lathrolestes luteolator, is still around Yellowknife, but not as bad as it once was.

"The leaf miner made the birch trees look like how they should look in October, but in the middle of July," said White, who handled the leaf miner during the 2001 infestation.

He said the leaf miner can't kill a tree, and as long as a tree is healthy, it can fight the parasite off. White also said there were no other tree diseases reported in the city this year.

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